A useful history of a war little studied on this side of the border.




Thorough account of the cynical, opportune US war against Mexico.

Former AP reporter Wheelan (Jefferson’s War, 2003, etc.) writes with vivid immediacy of desperate battles on desert sands and tropical beaches, but the best parts here take place in well-appointed Washington offices. As Wheelan notes, the war was precipitated by border skirmishes, particularly an attack by Mexican cavalry on a US army unit in April 1846 that, President James K. Polk insisted, took place on American soil inasmuch as Texas had recently been persuaded to join the Union. Whether the Mexicans actually forded the Rio Grande is unclear, but, by Wheelan’s account, what is certain is that Polk had been spoiling for a war of conquest “to divest Mexico of California and the New Mexico territory” in order to fulfill Jeffersonian notions of manifest destiny. Congress willingly budgeted $10 million and 50,000 soldiers for the task, silencing members who had protested—the nucleus, Wheelan notes, of the first major antiwar movement in the country’s history. Mexico’s government was weak and crumbling, so Polk had an easy enough sitting-duck target; thus, he rejected entreaties for peace by which Mexico would have ceded most of the desired territory for a mere $30 million if Santa Anna were allowed to return from exile to power and given a fund by which to bribe any Mexican legislators who opposed the deal. Instead, Polk unleashed a war most of whose American participants came to feel was unjust from the very start, and that, most historians of the period agree, set the American Civil War in motion: As Ulysses S. Grant, who distinguished himself at Chapultepec, said of the conflict, “Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. . . . We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.”

A useful history of a war little studied on this side of the border.

Pub Date: April 10, 2007

ISBN: 0-7867-1719-X

Page Count: 512

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2007

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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